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Warriors for Christ: Is Promise Keepers Making a Comeback?

Promise Keepers has repackaged its muscular Christianity and evangelical nationalism for a post-9/11 world.

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The goal of some Christian Zionist and Messianic Jewish groups is the repatriation of all Jews to Israel, and the conversion of all Jews to Christ. Saturday afternoon’s sermons reflected those hopes. The Jewish humor of David Chernoff, one of the Messianic movement’s most prominent rabbis, fell flat when he addressed the crowd. The mostly gentile audience just didn’t seem to get his joke about Jews and Chinese food. But Chernoff received rousing applause when he declared, “God is moving among our people” and “Yeshua is the only way.”

Coach Mac appeared on stage to speak about what sparked his interest in Jewish-Christian reconciliation, and to introduce material from his new book, Two Minute Warning, where McCartney calls reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles “the biblical pathway to worldwide revival.” In a dramatic moment, he also vowed to protect Jewish people “to the death.”

The most explicit naming of the endgame came from Daniel Juster of Tikkun Ministries International ( TMI). “We are both the Jewish part of the Body of Christ, and the saved remnant of Israel,” he said, referring to Messianic Jews. The conversion of Israel is a necessary precondition for ushering in the Messianic age. “Israel’s salvation can only be accomplished by the whole church,” Juster declared, “We can only accomplish this task by coming together as one new man. Only then will we have the power to convert Israel.”

Coach Mac’s interest in this kind of reconciliation reflects a decade of his deepening interest in the role that Jews and the nation of Israel play in the unfolding drama of the end times. As the story goes, Coach Mac and Raleigh Washington were oblivious to the importance of “believing Jews” within the Christian fold until a Messianic rabbi confronted them in 1996 and expressed his dismay at his community’s invisibility. All that talk about racial reconciliation at PK rallies, but what about us, the rabbi asked? What about the Jews?

PK’s rhetoric of reconciliation gave McCartney and Washington a way to conceptualize one missing piece of their Christian multicultural mosaic. Yes, white Christians have oppressed black and brown people, the logic of this thinking goes, but there is a rift even more ancient: the divide between Jewish and gentile believers. That divide is holding the church back from its achieving its rightful destiny—dominion over the earth.

After leaving Promise Keepers in 2003, Coach Mac, along with Washington, started up another ministry, the Road to Jerusalem. They have forged deep ties to other Christian Zionist and Messianic Jewish leaders and their organizations, honing a message about the urgency for reconciliation between Christians and “believing Jews,” and advancing their prophetic interpretations about Israel’s pivotal role in the last days. The men brought these preoccupations and passions to Promise Keepers when they returned to lead the organization in 2008, imagining PK 2.0 as a way both to resurrect Promise Keepers and introduce Messianic Judaism to the rest of evangelical America.

Is PK 2.0 up to forming spiritual warriors for 21st-century America? Despite the hopes of Coach Mac and others that the weekend’s event would “ignite and unite,” thus regaining for Promise Keepers some of the cultural capital it possessed back in the ’90s, the relaunch of PK seemed never to take flight. Attendance was disappointing; much of the energy at Folsom Field and on the webcast seemed nostalgia-driven, a misty-eyed remembrance of the time when PK could pack a stadium with 50,000 men.

But this doesn’t mean the game is over for Coach’s dreams, which may be more widely shared than some might think. PK’s reinvention, even if it falls flat, tells us a lot about the reach of Christian Zionism, philo-Semitism, and Messianic Judaism within some quarters of evangelical America. Some of the signs—all abundantly in evidence at Folsom Field—might appear quaint, even sweet in a multi-culti kind of way: Jewish melodies in contemporary Christian music, Israeli folk dancing, the sprinkling of Hebrew words in sermons and media productions (“ Shalom!”, “ Boker tov!”, “Behold the kavod of the Lord!”)